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Is animal protein better than plant-based protein for endurance athletes in recovery?

For most athletes, animal protein is a more beneficial choice when it comes to recovery. While plant-based in theory can be sufficient to meet protein requirements, it's often hard to do in practice. With commitment and focus, athletes on a plant-based diet can successfully meet their protein needs.

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Written by: The Athlete’s FoodCoach, on 17-11-2023
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Why is animal protein better for athletes than plant protein?

For athletes, animal protein is superior to plant protein because it offers several advantages:

  1. Improved digestion and absorption: Animal protein is easier to digest and absorb, allowing amino acids to reach the bloodstream and muscles more quickly.
  2. More building blocks: Proteins coming from animal sources contain all 9 essential Amino Acids (full EAA profile), crucial for Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). These are the building blocks for muscle recovery and training adaptation.
  3. Enhanced MPS Stimulation: Animal protein has higher levels of leucine, a key amino acid that boosts MPS.

In addition, when considering the environment, plant-based diets are more often eco-friendly. Athletes can achieve MPS levels by implementing complex nutrition strategies to compensate for the lower quality protein.

How can I get my protein needs on point while following a vegetarian or vegan diet as an endurance athlete?

To compensate for lower protein quality in a plant-based diet, these strategies will help you maintain an effective plant-based diet to meet your protein needs:

  1. Mix and match protein sources: Include a variety of plant-based foods in your meals to create a full EAA profile. Combine foods with different amino acids.
  2. Prioritize high-quality plant protein sources: Give preference to plant-based products with a (nearly) full EAA profile and/or rich in leucine, such as lentils, soy, quinoa and maize.
  3. Increase protein quantity: Aim to consume more proteins than the general recommendations. This is an effective strategy for endurance athletes who eat larger meals due to prolonged training.
  4. Consider protein supplements: When having difficulties in reaching higher protein intakes, consider plant-based protein supplements to meet your protein goals, even in smaller meals (e.g. rest day snacks).

Use the FoodCoach app to structure your training and receive customized protein recommendations for every meal. If your meals primarily consist of plant-based protein sources, aim for the upper end of the recommended protein range provided by the FoodCoach app. For instance, if you have plant-based yogurt as a pre-bedtime snack with 20g of protein, consider increasing your yogurt intake to reach 30g of protein. This ensures you get sufficient protein intake even from lower quality sources.

The FoodCoach app makes it easy to put these strategies into action using real foods. Discover vegetarian performance nutrition meals that have been tested at World Tour level. Tune your own meals with real ingredients to maximize protein intake, maintain energy balance, and fit seamlessly into your eating routine.

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